The Third Sunday in Advent
This is Gaudete (‘Rejoice’) Sunday where the third Advent Candle – pink in colour - is lit to celebrate the joy of relationship with God, each other, and the sacredness of creation. The scriptures today shout-out the promises of hope (from despair), restoration (from destruction), liberation (from oppression) and joy (from fear) giving all a reason to proudly wear the color pink and rejoice! During the Holocaust Jewish people had to wear the Star of David and gay people the pink triangle as trademarks of persecution and discrimination. I cannot speak for Jewish people, but what was a symbol of discrimination became a symbol of survival and pride, where in recent decades pink triangles have been visible worldwide during gay rights demonstrations.
Paul tells the Philippians to ‘Rejoice in God always’ despite the fact that he is in prison. The Philippians are a faithful but marginalised community and he shares their pain. For Paul, joy is connected with God’s ongoing presence. Writing from the uncertainty and inconvenience of prison, Paul is joyful as he looks at the larger picture. His hope is in the One from whom no human actions can separate us. God is near and God will sustain us.
This joy is not some instant gratification but emerges from the ongoing encounter with God who has plans for us - a future and a hope and with our sisters and brothers. Many impediments to experiencing this joy exist where so much of the Earth is in the balance and world leaders put short-term gain ahead of people today and future generations. Diversity is often seen as a call to division, rather than an invitation to learn. The authors of today’s scriptures also had to deal with the interplay of life and death, the collapse of the familiar social order, the dishonesty and incompetence of political leaders, and the impact of the machinations of hostile nations. Yet, they saw the birth of a new order beyond this chaos. God is not done with us or our histories. God has a vision of the future that we can join as God’s companions in pathway to Shalom. Zephaniah celebrates the dawn of a new day that God is in our midst where Israel will experience freedom and those in exile find a way home. The prophet celebrates the joy of homecoming and the healing of a people despite the painful awareness of tragic loss experienced in the past. Past pain can’t be denied. How much does this apply to the First Nations people of our land? We cannot forget our responsibility. But, the promise is of a new day. But we need to make it happen by our encounters, our action and finding hope and joy through our encounters with others and listening to their stories.
When John the Baptist called the people a ‘brood of vipers’ or snakes he was calling everyone to renewal through repentance. What John says does not sound like good news but beneath John’s difficult words is an invitation to the joy of companionship with God. His message is good news because we can recognise what we need to do to make our world a home.. It is not the repentance for personal sin but the repentance for involvement in social sin and injustice. We might call it truth telling today. John tells them to share what they have and act justly towards others. If we turn our gaze to how our country has treated First Nations people, exploited people from the Pacific and then deported them, treated the Chinese in the goldfields and barred people from Asia from entering Australia and the sordid treatment of people seeking asylum in recent decades. This is only a short litany from which we need to repent. Repentance is not just about saying, ‘I am sorry’ but making amends. It means listening to the voice of suffering, pain, grief and then refusing to continue down destructive and toxic paths. It means choosing life in all its vulnerability, fragility, and glory. Repentance in all its forms brings us life, healing, shalom.
The 2021 World AIDS Day theme was global solidarity and social responsibility. This applies to people living with HIV/AIDS who still do not have access to equitable health care but also those left vulnerable to Covid—19. The message of social responsibility is towards the most vulnerable near and far. It is in the midst of this darkness that we called to respond with mercy and be part of a ‘revolution of tenderness’ tested in the fire of reality.
When we speak of doors, there is a choice between supporting systems based on individualism, domination, control; seeing the world as hostile or threatening that demands more prisons, more military spending and more security. There are the closed doors where the rich get tax cuts or the open doors of a supporting community based on care, equality, compassion, partnership and cooperation. John’s message called for deliberate, concrete countercultural actions that do not collude with systems that rely on pedigree or entitlements. Three practical examples of actions that counter this collusion concerned coats, taxation, and extortion. These are doable. John speaks simply and prophetically to the voices of closed hearts and doors. When the people ask what they should do, John begins with what is most immediate and go on from there: share with the needy; be honest and just in dealings with others; the tax collectors are urged to be honest and just; and not abuse authority or take advantage of others. John’s concern was to create a society where people are equal in a system where some have a great deal and others have the cards stacked against them. It is to love one’s neighbours by attending to their immediate needs as well as challenging unjust structures. The challenge is for all to embrace a way of peace in our words, thoughts and actions and confront those people who fail in this regard. Can we speak to those who promote hated and challenge those who put profit over care for people? We cannot wait for religious leaders to call out those who poison our relationships with one another or fail to name the injustices that make up our broken world when it comes to inequality, discrimination, violence, climate change, refugees, Muslims, women, and gay and lesbian people.
John calls us to attend to our better selves: that of mercy and compassion, of integrity and peace. Despite very hard times in our world, nation and church, God will not abandon us. In fact, the prophet tells us, ‘The Lord is in your midst.’ The prophet invites us to open our eyes and ears and take note how close God is. Fr. Anthony de Mello tells the story of The Master who became a legend in his lifetime. ‘It was said that God once sought his advice: ‘I want to play a game of hide-and-seek with humankind. I’ve asked my Angels what the best place is to hide in. Some say the depth of the ocean. Others say the top of the highest mountain. Others still the far side of the moon or a distant star. What do you suggest? Said the Master, ‘Hide in the human heart. That’s the last place they will think of!’’
On this Gaudete Sunday, maybe the knowledge that God’s favourite dwelling place is in the human heart and that this is the source of our joy despite setbacks around us or in the world. It is not a matter of being passive or closing our heart to these but allowing our hearts to be opened, or broken open, and let the world in (thanks to Joanna Macy). Today, we celebrate God’s vision of wholeness in a fragmented world. This is not denial nor is it cynicism, but the gift of a larger perspective in which joy comes from identifying with God’s cause in the ambiguity of history. God’s cause will not be defeated and while we wait for our own and our world’s transformation, we can joyfully choose to act our way into a new way of seeing, living, and loving.
This is Good News! God is as near as our hearts. It is an awesome realisation. If God is so near, then God knows us through and through. But we also have Jesus to point out to us how to use our hearts in a way that imitates the actions of his heart. As we open our hearts to the God’s presence among us, the fruit of conversion is shown through our lives of joyful, loving service. Let us rejoice in anticipation, preparation, proclamation, and action as we await that day when God’s justice, God’s dwelling of love, is fully manifest.
Loving God of creation, transform us.
Turn our words
into acts of your justice and love.
Turn points of conflict
into possibilities for coalition.